Disaster risk reduction provides long-term solutions to flooding and droughts in India
As part of its risk reduction programme, the Indian Red Cross Society (IRCS) is installing raised platforms in flood-prone areas of the state of Bihar, while in Rajasthan, underground storage tanks are being installed to ensure that residents have access to safe drinking water all year round.
"Me and the goat will be saved from the flood," responds four-year-old Chowki, when asked to describe the purpose of the platform being constructed in his village Bhawanipur in Bihar.
Lessons learned from Indian disaster response operations over the past several years, such as the 1999 Orissa super cyclone, the flooding in Assam in 2000, and the Gujarat earthquake in 2001, have prompted the IRCS to strengthen its nationwide community-based disaster preparedness (CBDP) programme, which was started in 1996 and supported by the International Federation through a series of awareness-raising workshops.
A pilot risk reduction programme, started in 2001 and funded by the Department for International Development (DFID) Phase-I for South Asia, concentrated on flood preparedness and response in the state of Assam.
Such steps have allowed the Indian Red Cross to strengthen its capacities beyond disaster response and relief, allowing the National Society to become an important partner for vulnerable communities even before tragedy strikes.
Lesson learning is a key part of IRCS risk reduction activities, with each phase reflecting the experience and knowledge gained during response operations. For instance, two major floods in 2002 and 2004 in Bihar led the Red Cross to significantly scale up its disaster management efforts in that state.
"This programme encompasses three components," says Mr S P Singh, Honorary Secretary of the IRCS Bihar state branch. "This year, it includes one raised platform, 20 raised tube wells and one warehouse... next year, 15 more raised tube wells and a rivulet diversion will be put in-place to irrigate 500 acres of land," he adds.
By 2007, some 15 communities in Bihar will be covered under the risk reduction initiative. According to Mr S P Singh, the key to the programme's success lies not only in the structures that are installed but also in the community's awareness about disaster mitigation.
Angoori Baigam, a resident of one of the selected communities, wholeheartedly agrees.
"This programme is a boon for the whole community," she says. "We women and children are the most affected during floods because we lose our homes... basic necessities like drinking water, shelter and sewer systems suddenly aren't available.
"But these platforms are being given to us with raised tube wells and toilets, which will ease our life during tough times," she adds.
Indian Red Cross workers and volunteers explain to residents that the raised platform is intended to be used for several purposes and that its maintenance and upkeep should be a key priority and responsibility of the community.
Residents in Bhawanipur decided to nominate a supervisory committee for the platform in consultation with representatives of the International Federation and IRCS state and district branches.
As part of the initiative, local volunteers have been given training in disaster management, psychological support, first aid and public health in emergencies.
"I was impressed by the methodology through which the facilitators provided us with training... it encompasses even the small details that we need to pay attention to during any kind of disaster, which can sometimes be easily overlooked," says 32-year-old Nausheen, one of the participants in the Training of Trainers (TOT) course.
The risk reduction programme aims to make disaster-prone communities more aware of the hazards they face and of how to reduce their vulnerability, while learning how to cope when flooding or droughts, for example, do occur.
Under the Bihar risk reduction component in 2006, community-based activities, including the set-up of a disaster management committee, training and the provision of basic rescue kits are being implemented.
The platforms and tube wells will provide safe shelter and water supplies in times of severe flooding while the volunteers will help develop the community resilience.
Similarly, in Rajasthan, the risk reduction programme seeks to lessen the impact of droughts in five different districts by giving them easier access to water thanks to the construction of underground community water storage tanks. The initiative is expected to benefit women in particular, who often have to walk long distances to find water. Livelihood activities led by government bodies and non-governmental organizations are also targeting women in the region.
"Two major problems that we face in this state are access to drinking water and livelihoods," says Devi Lal Dinesh, the Rajasthan state branch secretary. "Through this project we are aiming at both vital issues and our efforts are appreciated by the government and NGOs. With our proven track record in disaster mitigation in other states, the Indian Red Cross is becoming a leading player in the disaster management field, with support from donors like the Department for International Development."
Umesh Singh is a 34-year-old volunteer from the Jaisalmer district Red Cross branch, who recently attended an orientation session organized by the Rajasthan state branch, where participants discussed and came up with a plan of action for the programme.
"It is very encouraging that our district problems have been acknowledged and that we have been given a chance to educate the community about disaster mitigation and to further create means to reduce their suffering," says Umesh.
The IRCS is marching forward with its objective to increase its capacity in disaster preparedness and response, as well as to reduce the vulnerability of targeted communities.
Captain Vandana, the IRCS assistant director for disaster management, says the result of the programme will be an improved capacity for the 15 selected communities to cope with flooding through an improved volunteer base, increased public awareness and mitigation activities.
"Local communities, especially women, are actively involved in drought mitigation in Rajasthan," says Captain Vandana. "They're forming committees, conducting drought monitoring and assessment activities, identifying local coping measures and all of this will have a very positive impact on vulnerable groups."